Cape Town — This panel saw researchers present a range of case studies and analysis exploring who are the 'smallholders' that the NPC envisages as the focus of its strategy to produce a million new jobs in agriculture.
They pointed to the choices about whether development of this sector will involve broad-based 'accumulation from below' or picking winners, what kinds of support services are needed, how they can be delivered, and how smallholders can access markets. The core message is: there are choices about the class agenda of this target to intensify smallholder agriculture, and the choices made now will determine who wins and who loses out in the process.
Nick Vink argued that the failure of land reform is the result of a failure of farmer support and called for 'farmer support programmes'.
While there have been plenty of plans (and associated acronyms like BATAT, CASP, RADP) to reintroduce this on a piecemeal basis, but the problem is the removal of farmer support from 1994. The only way to integrate the 'two agricultures' (commercial large-scale and small-scale in 'communal areas') is to implement Farmer Support Programmes (FSPs) alongside flexible land markets. Without FSPs, small-scale farmers have no market access; it means only the 'big guys' can succeed - those who can buy services that government no longer offers.
From the 1980s subsidies to commercial farmers started being dismantled and the Development Bank of Southern Africa introduced FSPs in the Bantustans as an alternative to the large, capital-intensive projects that had been tried previously, to industrialise and commercialise black farmers. What type of farming development model and support schemes is needed? We should look at varieties of contracting, outgrowing, equity schemes, and shareholding; FSPs need to be more user-friendly than the old DBSA bureaucratic approval procedures; we must prioritise access to farmland and secure property rights through land reform; and restructure the institutional support framework, now that many of the old institutions (eg. agricultural development corporations) have been dismantled - now there's a need to bring in industry bodies and establish public-private partnerships.
Ben Cousins called for a path of 'accumulation from below'. Government targets are to create 300,000 smallholder opportunities by 2020, and the NDP set the target of a million new jobs in agriculture, especially from smallholders, expanded irrigation, and new labour-intensive crops. How feasible are the targets? There is 500,000ha of irrigable land - but some people in the water sector dispute this, and there are debates about whether agriculture (which already consumes 70% of the country's water) should be further prioritised to this extent. We already have 200,000 smallholders and medium-scale commercial farmers; they should be the focus of a broad-based programme of 'accumulation from below' and should be the priority of government and private-sector programmes.
Cousins presented a class-analytic perspective: petty commodity producers are small productive enterprises using family labour-power to reproduce themselves, combining the class places of labour and capital.
Some enter 'expanded reproduction' or 'accumulation'. Others suffer a 'reproduction squeeze' and become proletarianised. We have a choice between 'accumulation from above' through Agri-BEE where the racial identity of farmers changes but the agrarian structure is left intact, and 'accumulation from below' by smallholder farmers (not necessary the poorest of the poor). The policy challenge is to fill the gap of the 'missing middle' between the 'two agricultures'. At Tugela Ferry irrigation scheme, smallholders are very productive smallholders, producing maize mostly for market and a wide variety of vegetables, which are told all over KwaZulu-Natal. The scheme is 100 years old, it is labour intensive, extension staff played a key role in the success but introduced costly inputs (chemical fertilizers and pesticides).
Small plot sizes enable an informal rental market so that those who are able to cultivate in any given season can rent in neighbours' land, meaning that land is intensively used, unlike many other communal areas where fallow fields are common. The old 'labour reserve' economy must be transformed. For accumulation to take place on a significant scale, we need redistribution of land and water, and resettlement, to enable emergence of successful smallholders to fill the 'missing middle'.
Davison Chikazunga reported on research on the obstacles for smallholder farmers trying to reach markets. SA's food self-sufficiency is at 117% and around 99% of food is produced by commercial farmers, while black smallholder farmers are excluded from formal value chains, because they struggle to meet the quantity, quality and other requirements of buyers.
A survey in Limpopo showed that smallholder farmers tend to have multiple marketing strategies, ranging from supermarkets, local and national fresh produce markets, local formal retail, and local informal roadside markets, and often combine multiple marketing strategies - only 7% of those surveyed managed to sell to supermarkets. Contrary to the priority placed in agricultural policy on getting smallholders into formal markets, the data from this survey suggests that net incomes to farmers are better when selling to processors or to local markets than to supermarkets.
Spar, which is a franchise store, is a positive example since it is procuring from smallholder black farmers, hawkers then buy from Spar, and sell informally - but most supermarkets' procurement procedures are less flexible, relying on purchase through wholesalers and distribution to branches from central distribution centres. There are successes in informal markets too. At Tshakuma informal market on the way to Thohoyandou, supply of fresh produce by black smallholder farmers to this market has created 50 jobs in the market itself. ICTs can play a role in enabling small farmers to access formal and informal value chains, especially in obtaining price information about distant markets, enabling farmers to make choices about where to market, given transport costs - though SA is lagging behind East Africa in terms of applications of ICTs to small farming.
Government policies, though, focus on grand costly projects of large packhouses to aggregate smallholders' output and satisfy the requirements of supermarkets - but our research suggests that this is not necessarily the only or best approach for the farmers concerned. When thinking about strategies to link farmers to markets, then, we should look not only at formal markets, but appreciate the role of informal markets and examine how to support these - they are more accessible, costs of access are lower, they are employment-creating, and they enable money to circulate within the rural areas.
Donna Hornby argued that class differentiation is growing within group-based land reform projects, on the basis of the Bester's project in northern KwaZulu-Natal. The context for this is that global restructuring of capital has been accompanied by the 'fragmentation' of classes of labour and intense struggles for survival and reproduction.
The emphasis on 'social cohesion' in recent policy from DRDLR replaces concern with class and gender differentiation; it suggests that there is a unity of 'community' out there. Similarly, the policy discourse of 'commercialisation' obscures who will benefit, and who the losers will be. In the Bester's area, there are 'labour dormitories', very densely settled rural areas, and in the commercial land adjacent, 14 farms (but only 6 of 14 communal property associations (CPAs) were studied) were transferred to 183 households of labour tenants at a cost of R36 million, or R197,000 per household - perhaps can be defined as 'accumulation from above'.
Did it succeed in 'commercialising' them? By the end of year one, the income was close to R700,000, but there was substantial conflict and implementing agencies warned of 'project failure' and called for better institutional support to resolve conflict. But Hornby's research suggests that the households are highly (and over time increasingly) differentiated, as are their uses of land and resources with which to farm, especially ownership of cattle (ranging from zero to 250 per household) - these are the real reasons why the project objectives are highly contested. Group-based farming enterprises always involve conflicts over how the profits get split.
Getting institutional arrangements right is one of the big lessons from the difficulties in land reform projects. A major use of cattle is for ceremonies and in marriage (as lobola), as well as for commercial sale.
What we see emerging through land reform is neither commercial farming, nor household production for consumption - it's generally a hybrid, as shown in this case. There are serious environmental constraints, but some CPAs are reinvesting in production and maintenance while others are paying out as much as possible, and hoping government will intervene with further funds in the future.
The discussion centred on the point that policy should not focus on a class of full-time farmers. Rather, household-based agricultural enterprises among 'petty commodity producers' involve tensions between consuming and reinvesting in the enterprise - and this must be acknowledged in policy. Even in the face of large corporate agribusiness, small farmers are making a go of it in a difficult market environment, and usually with little or no external support. Scaling this up and making it more profitable should be the focus of policy.
Success stories tend to involve either irrigation or livestock - dryland cropping is what people rely on as an adjunct to non-farming based livelihoods. The goal must be increasing the contribution of farming to rural incomes, some of which may be reinvested in farming, enabling accumulation. Other sources of income may help the process, and social grants, remittances and wages might support this.
Agriculture is a cheaper way of creating jobs than any other activity - but aiming for full-time farming is a pipe dream for policy if the aim is to reduce poverty and inequality, as it is only possible for a small elite. Large numbers of rural households who are so excluded economically could be supported, on a part-time basis, to 'accumulate from below', if we were to redirect the focus and logic of redistributive land reform, and agricultural support programmes. To reach the NDP target (to even start to think of approaching it!) we need to think about scaling up on the basis of some of the successes with small-scale irrigation schemes.